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When I have seen this expression written, it is usually as "tow the line" as if the subject were a tugboat.

I have always thought that "toe the line" made more sense as a fighting expression, where the fighter puts his toe on the line to indicate he is up to scratch and ready to fight.

What is the origin of this phrase?

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closed as general reference by Hugo, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, kiamlaluno, Daniel, simchona Oct 23 '11 at 2:48

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1 Answer 1

It's "toe the party line".

NGram:

toe

Origin from Wikipedia:

The most likely origins of the term go back to the usage of the wooden ships in the Royal Navy. Barefooted seamen had to stand at attention for inspection and had to line up on deck along the seams of the wooden planks, hence to "toe the line". Over the years the term has been attributed to sports, including toeing the starting line in track events and toeing a center line in boxing which boxers were instructed to line up on either side of to start a match.

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3  
So is the red line just the rise of idiocy? –  Sam Oct 22 '11 at 5:57
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